May 27, 2019
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‘Basketball is life’ is the message to young players

Greg Westrich | BDN
Greg Westrich | BDN
Guarded by Logan Hafford, Henry Westrich of Glenburn launches a shot at the basket during the Jan. 7, 2014 practice session of the Glenburn 5/6 basketball travel team. Watching is Dawson Smith. All three players live in Glenburn.

GLENBURN — When my son turns on his iPad, he sees the following message: “Basketball is Life.” Henry is 12, in the sixth grade. He has been playing basketball since he was 7 and non-stop for more than a year. Right now he is on Glenburn’s 5/6 travel team and the middle school A team.

That’s three games and at least four practices a week. I can see where he might think basketball is his life.

After last winter’s travel tournaments were finished, and most kids dug out their baseball gloves, Henry started playing on an inter-town team that traveled to Augusta and Saco to play. Over the summer, Henry did five basketball camps and played on a team that traveled to Waterville for games. He spent as much time in the gym over the summer as he does now during basketball season.

The strides he’s made in his game in the last year have been amazing, at least to me.

My wife and I have spent hours discussing whether it’s all too much. What we’ve decided is that it may be too much for us, and certainly too much for our daughter, who gets dragged to most games and practices. It doesn’t seem to be to much for Henry. He gets good grades at school, he has friends outside of basketball, and he has other interests. We’ve learned that so long as Henry is driving his interest, it’s not too much.

Watching Henry and his peers play and practice while helping to coach his travel team has taught me a thing or two about basketball —

— and about being a kid.

It takes three things to be a great basketball player: fundamental skills, athleticism, and maturity. Very few kids have all three. Many of Henry’s peers who have been the stars of their teams are the best athletes. You can’t teach athleticism, but you can help with conditioning and quickness.

Now that they are in middle school, the kids who have the best fundamentals are beginning to have greater success. But the athletic players often resist knuckling down and acquiring the skills they need to take their game to the next level.

Jon Glazier, Glenburn’s middle school Boys A coach, argues that you have to practice a skill 10,000 times before it becomes automatic. What 12-year-old has the maturity and patience to do something 10,000 times, when they’ve always had success without that skill? It takes a special kid to practice for hours and hours, deferring gratification like that.

It also takes a lot of maturity to be a real team player, to always do what’s best for the team. I’ve seen NBA games, so I know that many people never learn that. We adults can’t make our kids be mature, but we can encourage and reward maturity. Henry and his teammates are expected to cheer for each other, give high fives, and generally put the team before themselves.

As a parent and a coach, what I need to do is encourage kids to grow in all three areas as much as they can, to figure out when and where to push and when to back off. Sometimes getting in a player’s face and telling it to him straight motivates him. Other times, kids need to be nurtured and encouraged.

It’s a balancing act that none of us gets right all the time.

We do our best and try to set a good example:

• Rooting for all the kids, not just our own;

• Accepting the refs calls without question;

• Respecting our opponents;

• Being fair to all the kids, making sure the successful ones don’t get treated any different from anyone else;

• Caring more about hard work and smart play than winning.

Kids don’t learn from what we tell them; they learn from what we do. If we all do all those things, not only will Henry and his teammates become better basketball players, but better people as well.

Maybe Henry is right, and basketball is life.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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